Protests in Pakistan after Supreme Court acquits Christian Asia Bibi of blasphemy

Asia Bibi

A Christian woman who was convicted of blasphemy and was acquitted by Pakistan's Supreme Court is likely to be flown out of the country as the landmark verdict sparked countrywide protests and death threats from hardline groups.

"The patron in chief of TLP, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, has issued the edict that says the chief justice and all those who ordered the release of Asia deserve death", said party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi.

According to her statement in court, she had a heated argument with the women after they refused to drink water she had fetched for them because she was a Christian.

Meanwhile, Opposition lawmakers in Parliament called on Thursday for reforming the judicial system and amending Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law so that innocents like Ms. Bibi wouldn't spent years languishing in jail. All roads in major cities in the country have been blocked as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TLP) called for a shutter-down strike.

Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, expressed his joy at his wife's exoneration and release.

Protesters burn a poster of Asia Bibi, in Pakistan. For almost eight years, Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian farmhand and mother of five, had her life languish in limbo.

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Speaking to the BBC, her lawyer Saiful Mulook said she would need to move to a Western country after the ruling for her own safety.

FILE - In this November 20, 2010, file photo, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, listens to officials at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore.

Another Islamist group, the Millie Yakjehti Council, is also meeting on Thursday to discuss Bibi's case and may launch protests.

In overturning her conviction, the ruling said the evidence against Bibi was insufficient.

In Karachi, demonstrations were organized in at least five places, city spokesperson Abid Hussain said. The two Muslim women who pressed charges against Bibi denied they quarrelled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked.

"I don't see any derogatory remarks vis-a-vis the holy Quran as per the FIR", added Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, referring to the initial complaint filed in the case.

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Bibi says she was falsely accused and is very respectful of Muslims and Mohammed. The other women, who like Asia and her two daughters, are agricultural workers, urged her to renounce the Christian faith and embrace Islam.

Human rights group have determined that some Muslims repeatedly use Pakistan's blasphemy laws to settle personal vendettas against Christians and other religious minorities across the country, where authorities have arrested dozens of people for allegedly insulting Islam.

In the 1980s, Pakistan's military ruler Gen Zia ul-Haq made the laws against blasphemy more stringent; in 1982 he instituted life imprisonment for "willful" desecration of the Koran; in 1986, "death, or imprisonment for life" for blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad.

His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 and has been feted as a hero by hardliners, who built a shrine to him just outside the capital. They said the men were still being questioned.

Reports have surfaced that several western nations have offered asylum to Bibi and her family. She was convicted and sentenced to death.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has also formed a committee comprising state minister for interior, information minister and foreign minister to look into the matter and devise a strategy to defuse the ongoing political tension.

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